The twelve year Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab) results announced last month by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute confirm that Australians are not making the changes needed to address the issues of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The study revealed that 36% of the participants were insufficiently active and that young people aged 25-34 gained more weight in the 12-year period than other age groups. People had added 5.3 cm on average to their waistline across the whole population.
The study also calls for a reduction in sitting at work that requires changes to workplace cultures, even building design.
“It’s very bad news,” says fatigue and productivity expert Elizabeth Shannon, “because these same lifestyle changes are required to help people sleep better and break the vicious cycle which includes other physical and mental health disorders.”
Ms Shannon, who is a consultant to companies, schools and individuals on sleep and productivity and workplace health and safety based in Manly (Sydney), says the Baker IDI report also reinforces the need for workplaces to provide employees the opportunity for exercise during the day. She says there are four reasons why employers should consider introducing some sort of exercise program to the workplace – whether that be through breaks during the day, access to a corporate gym or reimbursement of costs for an exercise program.
1. Exercise improves performance, productivity and profitability.
“After exercise employees have better time management skills and improved mental alertness. It improves mood and tolerance, and reduces stress, anxiety and depression.”
2. Exercise helps staff sleep better, reducing the significant costs associated with fatigue
“According to Dr Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School 70% of people say they frequently don’t get enough sleep with 30% saying they don’t get enough sleep every single night.
“No single organ in the body is affected by lack of sleep more than the brain – specifically memory, planning, ability to focus, attention span, response initiation, problem solving, verbal reasoning, strategic thinking, mental flexibility, inhibitory control and executive skills.
“Fatigued workers are associated with productivity losses, errors, motor vehicle and other accidents, uncontrolled emotions, absenteeism, risky and hazardous decision making, reduced immunity, inflammation, addictions, even an increased probability of cancer.
“Each depressed employee costs their employer $9,665 per year. Fatigued worker’s cost of loss of work performance is equivalent to 7.8 days/year or $2,280 per person. Individuals that sleep less than 6 hours are eleven times more likely to have work related errors than those that get 8 hours sleep. Those that get less than 5 hours sleep have an impaired performance comparable to those who are legally drunk.”
3. Exercise is a very cost effective way to improve the workplace culture
“Companies voted the best in the world to work for, such as Google, incorporate significant employee perks and freedoms, thereby attracting large numbers of applications for every job – strengthening the already exceptional talent pool.
“Dr Silvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the New York based Center for Work-Life Policy cites overeating, alcohol, smoking, sleeping pills and losing one’s temper as the negative coping strategies on the rise since the GFC.
4. Exercise disrupts the vicious cycle of fatigue, obesity, food cravings, sleep apnea, snoring and depression
“Professor Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago, showed sleeping for only four hours a night for just two nights raised levels of the ‘hunger’ hormone by 28% and reduced leptin (the hormone that signals that you are full) by 18%. The obesity and diabetes problem is compounded when tired workers crave sweet, high fat, starchy, salty and other fattening foods.”
Ms Shannon says that there are other cost-effective and simple ways organisations can improve health outcomes and productivity for their employees.
“Apart from exercise, this can include sleep education and allowing napping at work,” Ms Shannon explained.
“Even if your organisation doesn’t encourage these best practices, start during your lunch time today and you’ll feel and perform better in just a few days,” she says.